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What future for Pembrokeshire?

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andrew-rt-daviesWhen the Welsh Government commissioned former NHS Wales CEO Sir Paul Williams to report on public governance in Wales, it made a low key announcement of what now appears to be a scheme for the root and branch reform of the way councils and other public bodies deliver services. In January, when the Williams Commission delivered its draft report, it recommended that the number of local councils in Wales be cut, claiming that there would be massive cost savings in reducing the number of Welsh authorities from 22 to 12 or fewer. At the time, even Labour AM’s were taken aback by the scope of the reorganisation. Lynne Neagle, who represents Torfaen, which would be merged with Blaenau Gwent and Caerphilly under the plans, said in January: “For me, the overriding question that remains unanswered, is where the reducing the numbers of local authorities, particularly at this time, is the panacea for delivering that kind of change – especially when on reading this report, it often feels like the Commission started from the point of saying we need to cut the numbers of councils and then worked backwards, rather than keeping all options on the table.” Having published its response to the Williams Commission on July 8, it is certain that the Welsh Labour Government is determined to plough on and accept the Williams Commission’s recommendations whether or not there is cross-party consensus – or even consensus within Welsh Labour – as to their implementation. As First Minister Carwyn Jones made clear before ramming through the reorganisation of the Welsh NHS in the face of widespread public opposition: “No change is not an option.” After publishing its White Paper, the Welsh Government now seeks public responses to its threat to tear up local government in Wales and impose a new structure, the Pembrokeshire Herald asks whether its public consultation on the proposals is just a sham – a fig leaf to cover their embarrassment when the public realise what changes will entail. Announcing the Welsh Labour Government’s endorsement of the Williams Commission’s recommendation, the First Minister said: “The Commission’s report presented a number of options in terms of a map of merged authorities, but made it clear the decision was for the Welsh Government. I currently believe the first model described by the Commission, which suggests 12 local authorities, provides a coherent overall approach and strikes a balance between building organisational capacity and ensuring local democratic responsiveness. “It is my view that the Commission made a convincing argument that the boundaries of merged local authorities should align with health board and police force boundaries in order to best support collaborative service delivery on that basis. There would have to be exceptional circumstances in order to move away from this principle.” In Pembrokeshire, fears have been expressed that the proposals will lead to a return to the old Dyfed County Council. We spoke to veteran Carmarthenshire Council leader Kevin Madge who asked: “Why go back to what didn’t work? People thought that Dyfed was too far away, too remote from them and their communities. The Welsh Government has not got agreement from local government leaders on this at all and there’s a lot of water to pass under the bridge first. “We have a general election next year, Assembly elections in 2016 and a round of local government elections in 2017. Elections are unpredictable things and I would say that the reorganisation the Welsh Government want is not a done deal. “I am deputy leader of the Welsh Local Government Association, and I would say that the only way forward is to have a proper dialogue between the 22 leaders of local government in Wales and the Welsh ministers. So far, we have not had that. “Let’s look at the suggestion that costs will be cut and savings made. Well, I suppose there might be savings at top levels, but people still need their councils to deliver important daily services. I am concerned that service jobs, which are already under pressure, will be cut and councils will no longer be able to deliver vital services to its communities. “The cost of reorganisation will be £300m to £400m. How will that be funded? That’s the question. I do not think that the people will accept that money being taken out of the budget to deliver services to them.” He pauses a moment and responds to a question about service reductions: “The cuts we are having now are deeper than any of those we experienced in the 80s and 90s under Thatcher. But the cuts now being imposed are on a much smaller base than those were. Things are tough already and it is difficult to see where further cuts can be made without damaging frontline services.” On Council Tax, Mr Madge had even more misgivings: “Pembrokeshire has low Council tax. The rates of Council tax would have to be brought into line across merged authorities. How could that be done? In current higher Council Tax areas, would it go down? If so, how would you make up the shortfall? In lower Council Tax areas, it would need to go up. It’s a minefield to sort out. Frontline services will suffer.” “As for savings, I was a Councillor in 1996 when the last reorganisation took place. Any new structure will take five to eight years to ‘bed in’ and it could take eight to ten years for a new authority to fully get to grips with things. Things won’t improve overnight. Reorganization is not a magic wand.” On the opposite side of the political fence, there is agreement with Kevin Madge’s position. Simon Hart MP told us: “I have got pretty serious misgivings about losing a local authority for Pembrokeshire. After all, we were all relieved when we reverted from Dyfed County Council. However it should be possible to share costs, some services and purchasing contracts (as is the case already in certain parts of London) with other authorities, without losing our County identity and knowledge. The more local the Council, the more accountable we can make it.” And his views were echoed by local AM Paul Davies: “I have some serious concerns that local identities of areas across Wales will be swallowed up in mergers and so any tinkering with local authorities’ boundaries must be fully consulted upon and they need to incorporate an accurate cost/benefit analysis. “Pembrokeshire residents currently enjoy low council taxes and if we returned to the old Dyfed model, as suggested by the Williams Commission, I’m given to understand that council tax could rise by 26%. This would undoubtedly worry my constituents and so any moves to change boundaries must take on board the effects of council tax rises for hard-pressed people living in Pembrokeshire. “The Pembrokeshire brand is synonymous across the globe with tourism and food produce. We need to do everything we can to protect the Pembrokeshire brand, which could be lost under these merger plans. Many people fought long and hard against the old Dyfed model and so we must not lose Pembrokeshire in the Welsh Government’s drive to centralisation across Wales.” Welsh Conservative Leader Andrew R T Davies told the Herald: “Welsh Labour made no reference to these plans to restructure local government in their 2011 Assembly manifesto and have no democratic mandate to do so. “We will closely monitor any proposals that Welsh Labour bring forward and fight to ensure that small authorities retain a strong voice in local government. “Ultimately it would be a very sad day for democracy in Wales if local government reform leads communities to feel greater disconnect with their councils.”

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Johnston: Police appeal after boy on scooter injured in collision

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POLICE are appealing for witnesses after a collision in Johnston, near Haverfordwest, on Wednesday (Aug 5).

A boy on a scooter sustained minor injuries during the collision, which took place at around 4.20pm.

A red 4×4 is also believed to have been involved.

Anyone who was in the area of the St Peters Road pelican crossing, or nearby Langford road, and either witnessed the collision or who has CCTV that covers this area is asked to get in touch with Dyfed-Powys Police

As spokesman said: “You can telephone 101 or email contactcentre@dyfed-powys.pnn.police.uk. If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired you can text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908. Please quote Dyfed-Powys Police Ref DP-20200805-249.”

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Police ask communities to stay alert to prevent raves this weekend

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Police are asking communities to stay alert to prevent raves this weekend.

As we head into the weekend, police are urging members of the public in Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire to help them prevent illegal raves from setting up in their communities.

A police operation, called #OpFlamenco, is urging people living in rural communities, including farmers and landowners, to report anything suspicious to Dyfed-Powys Police.

The information will help police respond swiftly as illegal raves arise and hopefully prevent them from happening or at the very least allow police to respond before they become established.

Superintendent Jon Cummins, Head of Specialist Operations for Dyfed-Powys Police, said:

“We know raves can cause anxiety to the community they are held in, and if not dealt with swiftly are difficult to stop due to the sheer numbers of people involved. There is also a safety concern involved in breaking-up such events. And as we’re currently faced with the pandemic, it is absolutely crucial that these types of gatherings do not take place.

“As a force, action is taken as soon as we gather any intelligence of an event being planned. We will continue to respond swiftly to reports of illegal gatherings, and where appropriate will prosecute those responsible in order to protect our communities. Officers will also be conducting proactive patrols of areas identified as possible sites for these types of gatherings.

“However, these types of illegal events are carefully co-ordinated to avoid police attention, and organisers will always try to find new ways to avoid being found out.

“We rely on the support of communities to report any suspicious activity immediately, so action can be taken to disrupt illegal gatherings swiftly. And there has never been a more important time for us all to look out for each other, and report anything that seems suspicious.

“I would encourage farmers, landowners and local communities to report anything they feel is suspicious or out of the ordinary either online at: http://bit.ly/DPPReportOnline, or by email at: contactcentre@dyfed-powys.pnn.police.uk, or by calling 101.”

Know the signs:

Unusual numbers of vehicles, especially camper vans, vans or trucks, seen in the locality.
Illegal trespassers may recce sites in advance of any rave

People may approach landowners and ask around for land, in the guise of hiring it for acceptable activities such as gymkhanas or scout camps.

If you suspect anyone who approaches you for land hire might not be who they say they are, please do not hesitate to contact police.

Social networks make it easier for organisers to spread the word – rave attendance numbers can grow hugely in short spaces of time, and locations can change quickly.

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Haverfordwest: Appeal for information following incident at Morrisons

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POLICE are investigating a shoplifting and assault allegation which occurred at approximately 3.20pm on Saturday (Aug 1) at Morrisons, Haverfordwest.

A teenage male was involved in an altercation with the store security guard after he and two older people, a male and a female, were stopped for the purpose of checking receipts as they exited the store.

All three had left the store before police arrival.

Police said: “There were a number of customers of the store who may have witnessed the incident.

“Anyone with information which could help the investigation is asked contact police.”

“Police can be contacted at contactcentre@dyfed-powys.pnn.police.uk, or by calling 101. If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908.”

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